Tradescantia Zebrina .:. The Wandering Jew


tales and opinions of the wandering Jew

So Much LGBTQ Jew News!

cross-posted from Jewschool.

In many cities and towns across North America (and the world), June is Pride month, honouring and commemorating the Stonewall Riots of June, 1969 and the start of the gay rights movement. Keeping with the Pride/LGBTQ theme, I have five things of interest to queer and transgender Jews (and their allies).

1 – For those who haven’t yet seen it, Trembling Before G-d, a documentary about the lives of Orthodox and Hasidic gay or lesbian Jews is now online, is streaming at Hulu.

2 – Jewish Mosaic let us know about Kol Tzedek, “an alliance of Jewish organizations working together in unprecedented ways to include transgender people in all aspects of Bay Area Jewish life.” (Additionally, they have a second focus: marriage equality and fighting prop 8.)

Over the past year, we met with a plethora of community members and rabbinic leaders to informally explore how transgender and gender variant people currently interact, or not interact, with the organized Jewish community. We compiled a report based on our anecdotal evidence and shared experiences of the perceived organizational, social and ritual needs of transgender and gender variant persons, and our wish to understand and serve this community’s needs better.

Our objective was to collect enough initial information to compile a brief report to present to the new CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (SFJCF), Daniel Sokatch. We had a very successful meeting in which we presented the report and had an enthusiastic and receptive conversation.

The report is available in PDF here. I share it with you guys in light of their hopes for the report: “Finally, with both confidence and humility, we offer this report to inspire similar initiatives elsewhere in the United States, within and outside the Jewish community.”

3 – dlevy says “Hi.” He’s too busy to post right now, so asked me to mention him in this post about the gays.

4 – Mostly for some laughs, because does anyone actually take the Westboro Baptist Church seriously?!, check out this Slog video. At a protest outside the Stroum Jewish Community Center in North Seattle this weekend, they held signs including “Bitch Burger” (watch the video for an explanation on that one; it had me and my friends scratching our heads), “God Hates Israel,” “God is Your Enemy,” and “Antichrist Obama” – in addition to their boringly trite “God Hates Fags.” The Slog reports:

I know a lot of people may still be wondering, what exactly *is* a bitch burger? And/or is a CRAPuccino a drink that was invented in Seattle? Well, I tried to get some answers for you. Also stay tuned for Part II, where I try to find out why God suddenly hates President Obama… and, in Part III, a real live Israeli Jew asks “The Hot One” what he really thinks of anal sex.

5 – Last week CBST (Congregation Beth Simchat Torah: “New York City’s synagogue for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews, our families, and our friends”) finally released their new siddur, B’chol L’vav’cha / With All Your Heart. The siddur is for Shabbos evening services only.

We try to create the most meaningful experience of prayer we can. Jewish prayer is not a spectator sport. Each week will be different from the week before. Not every week’s service will “work” for every person. Not every service will give you what you came searching to find. But if you hang in there, if you come back regularly, the fixed portions of our liturgy and the weekly variations will most likely begin to speak to you and address those needs you felt keenly and those you didn’t even know you had. [p.14]

I use this excerpt by way of showing what CBST is trying to do with this siddur. Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: america, gender, hebrew, homophobia, judaism, politics, queers, religion, seasons

As ulpan comes to an end…

Are you considering the winter ulpan at Hebrew University? Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You’re going to be in a class, in a program, that’s aimed at American undergrads. Many of them are immature, and don’t actually want to be in class. What does that mean for you? They talk, SMS/text, laugh, etc., throughout class and during lectures. Because they are the target audience, the teachers don’t seem to care about their behaviour, and let the disruptions continue. A friend of mine, in another class, has had to leave early several times due to the headaches she’s been getting from their noise in class.
  • The students who are at Rothberg for the semester will be continuing ulpan during the regular semester. They’ve been told that this winter ulpan is just the start for them, an introduction or refresher for the level they’re about to complete. I, and several other external students who just came for the winter ulpan, were told we would be finishing a full level (for me, that means the Bet book), over the four weeks of ulpan. Clearly we were told this so that we’d pay the huge tuition and take the course. However, the explanation given the the American undergrads is far more accurate.
  • The tuition. It’s a lot. $900US, plus $60US registration fee, plus the book. So I’d be buying the book regardless of which ulpan I went to, but let’s look at the $960. That’s $960 for four weeks, which is 19 class days (4 the first week, 5 the remaining three). Or $50.53 per class. Then you factor in the three snow days we’ve now missed (one was made up completely), so that’s a pure loss of $101.06. Our teacher had some prior engagement last week, so she let us out an hour early; we were to make up that hour today, but today’s the third snow day. So that’s now a loss of $113.69 when I add the extra lost hour.
    • MS suggests that any Americans reading this won’t be balking at the price of the course, given the expensive post-secondary education system in the USA. But I still think that, regardless of where you’re from, $900 for an inter-semester, four week course is expensive.
  • Disorganization. Yesterday, before leaving class, a classmate asked our teacher for information on the oral exam we’re supposed to have, a component of our final grades. Our teacher commented that it’s just as was explained on the hand out she gave us last week. Except we weren’t given a hand out last week, or ever. Their disorganization meant we were given a day’s notice for our oral exams. (Of course, due to the snow that’s been canceled.) On our test last week, we were supposed to have been tested on a bunch of grammar that our other teacher had never taught us.
  • The zionist agenda. While I enjoy singing Israeli folk and rocks songs from the 1970s and 1980s as much as the next guy, I’m at ulpan to learn Hebrew. Not to spend a couple hours in an auditorium singing “gesher tsar me’od” and “ani v’atah.” The historic tour of campus, the lectures on Israeli money and the history of the Hebrew alphabet, and those weekly singing sessions were a waste of time. The lecture on Ethiopian Jews was interesting, but, again, shouldn’t have taken away from class time. Especially given how little we learn in class.

I feel like it was a waste of money. But, hey, your milage may vary.

Filed under: hebrew, israel, school


The second week of ulpan is coming to a close. This is incredibly alarming as I don’t feel I’ve learned that much yet – and there’s only another 2 weeks to go. This also means I’m doubting their promise that students move up a full level after the winter intensive ulpan. (Like everything else at ulpan thus far, there have been conflicting promises. While many of us were told students could expect to move up a level (and, yes, that means students would complete a full level). Others were told they wouldn’t move up a level, but would get halfway through. Others have said that the administration carefully avoided answering their inquiries when they asked how far they’d move up.)

This has also been a really long week. Due to last week’s snow, the university was closed for two days. One day will be replaced tomorrow, Friday. For those of you outside Israel, this is like going to school on Saturday. It also means that I’m exhausted, and will have no real chance to catch up on my sleep. Friday’s been my morning of sleeping late for the last few months, since Saturdays mean waking early to get for Shabbat services. This Friday, I won’t have that option. And it’s going to be a rush to leave the campus, get down home, and prepare for Shabbat. Shabbat. Back to class on Sunday. I predict that by next Thursday, I will be a zombie.

Otherwise, it’s true what they say: this really is “Rothberg High.” There are so many gap year students and undergrads, that it feels like a high school during the breaks (and sometimes during class time). Those of us who have moved past that stage in our lives have been spending a lot of the breaks together. I’m glad MS is there; it’s nice to be able to talk politics, economics, and theology with him… Instead of rolling my eyes at the play by play of the previous night’s drunken debauchery. Good times.

Best word thus far (not actually learned in class, alas): מלוכלך (m’lukh’lakh) which means “dirty,” (with a sexual connotation). Really, I use it many times a day.

In other news, I like ordering upside down (חפוך – chaphukh) coffees. Especially when they’re strong. So very necessary when ulpan requires me to be up with the birds, but my insomnia has me falling asleep just before those birds start chirping.

This also means that my time in Israel is coming to an end…

Filed under: hebrew, israel, school, sleep/insomnia

An Evening of Firsts!

Received my first “shneqel” coin in my change. That is, the recently introduced 2-sheqel coin. The design is interesting: looks like two shofars as cornucopia, with some of the seven species poking out, and a pomegranate in the centre.

For the first time since I arrived in August, I’ve seen an ambulance donated by Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel. But not just any CMDAI-donated ambulance – one I organized the fundraising for. It’s nice to see my work realised. (I know this as donors’ names are displayed on the doors of the ambulance, and these donors were folks I worked with.)

I read, and understood, tonight’s midrash! Well, 98% of the words. Woo! Previously, I’ve needed to look up waaay too many words, which makes learning a slow and frustrating process of read two words, look ’em up, read two words, look ’em up, try to phrase the previous words with the current words, read two words… repeat the process… Understanding what you read is a far superior method.

Filed under: hebrew, israel, judaism, random, school, work

And so it goes

I spent Shabbat at Sde Eliyahu, a dati (religious) kibbutz near Beit She’an, with friends. Before going up there, I’d had this lingering thought that perhaps, quite possibly, אולי ,אפשר, I’d made the wrong decision in choosing not to go the kibbutz ulpan route with these friends. But then I witnessed it for myself. Instead of getting into the problematics, I suggest that you read what The Last Trumpet had to say.

…It was not a great Shabbat. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed seeing my friends. And I enjoyed our failed Shabbat afternoon journey to the water spring (which involved walking through an orchard of spider webs, circling around the spring, watching a giant crab at the edge of the water who clearly wanted to EAT US NOW, my being bitten by a fish, not actually swimming or even fully getting in the water, being circled by bees, backing away from the praying mantis, having spiders come out of the rimon (pomegranate) that I picked from the tree to snack on, and destroying my faux-crocs (which now have lovely holes in the soles)). On the plus side, we did eat a pomegranate and dates fresh from the trees, I got to play with a super cute 18 month old girl who is beyond confused by which language she speaks (Heblish? Engrew?), and I got to speak French with a Belgian kibbutznik who started to talk about how Belgium might be on its final breath as a unified country, and who was incredibly surprised and pleased that I knew what she was talking about and could add to the conversation. On the down side, the davening was beyond bad; even the addition of the Jerusalem Cantors Choir didn’t add any ruach.

At least I no longer doubt my choice: the kibbutz ulpan would NOT have been a good idea for me.

Filed under: friends, hebrew, israel, languages, travels

Other tidbits

A few other things to keep you appeased:

  • As BZ pointed out, שופרסל is pronounced “shufersal.” It would make more sense for it to be “supersal” or even “shopper-sal”. But no. My theory is that the owners were drunk when ordering their first million business cards, confused the “p” with the “f” (it’s the same letter in Hebrew, just pronounced differently – pey or fey), and realised they were stuck with the “f.”
  • I was rammed with a dead cow. I had dead cow on my leg.
  • I think the thing that I killed in the bedroom was a scorpion.
  • It’s hard to convince the pizza guy to put more than one topping on your pizza.

Filed under: hebrew, israel, random

Jerusalem, it is.

So I’m staying in Jerusalem [link to Google Earth file that shows my location], most likely through the end of August. I have ordered a cell phone, which should be here by week’s end; if you feel you’re someone who should have that phone number, email me or leave a comment. Once the phone arrives, it’ll be much easier to coordinate apartment hunting in Haifa. Also, I need to find out exactly which neighbourhood I want to live in there, before I commit to taking a place. Thus far, I only know which neighbourhoods would be convenient as far as being able to take one bus to U-Haifa for ulpan, or to work. Being in walking distance of the beach would be great too, though…

And I’m already starting to think about 2008, back in Jerusalem to study Torah and Talmud. I’m debating between different schools/yeshivas, all of which have pros and cons, not the least of which is that no two schools follow the same academic calendar, which means the Spring Semester can start any time from early January through late February. Oy.

In other news, I have been sick every day that I have been here. Thursday doesn’t really count, as technically I was sick over the Atlantic and western/central Europe. I was fine by Thursday night, then sick again Friday evening and every day since. I’m not sure what’s to blame, though I suspect it’s a combination of the heat and the water (I don’t care what you say, there is a salty taste to the tap water, with a distinct chlorine-y aftertaste). It hasn’t really been slowing me down, though it is annoying. That said, I’m determined to adapt to the heat and water, since it’s still summer and I have to drink the stuff for the next year.

The Hebrewing continues. I had a minor set back – my iPod decided to play dead, so I couldn’t listen to Hebrew lessons on my walk to Ben Yehuda – but that’s been fixed, and I just tried to learn words through usage today (and by pestering EKO as she did her homework and we walked through the city).

Not the most exciting of posts, but an update nonetheless.

Today’s words: מַדְהִים (amazing) and שַׁמְפִּינְיוֹן (champignon [French for mushrooms]).

Filed under: health, hebrew, israel, random, school, travels

Language skills

Since getting off the plane in Tel Aviv, I’ve been trying to write down every new Hebrew word that I learn. The first few were easy; I suspect I had learned them previously. Friday’s words were mostly grocery and housing related. (The main apartment hunting website is unilingual, so I’m translating the heck out of it.)

After Shabbat, I took out my notebook and tried to remember the words I’d learned over the previous 28 hours. I think I remembered most, but maybe not. (Highlights included “breasts,” “penis,” and “oil,” which I think all came up in a proper context… or possibly in the context of Dorff’s teshuvah [pdf].)

I’ve been averaging about 25 words per day, most of which are quite practical and I think are a good foundation. But today’s words? “Shake,” “spray,” “poisonous,” “warning,” “swallowing”… Yes, many I can, and will, use in other contexts. But, wow, it took quite a long time to read through the instructions and warnings on the can on insect spray. Read a word, look it up, write it down, read a word, look it up, write it down… I was really pleased that I recognized the shoresh, root, of some words and could guess their meaning given the context. And I really like the onomatopoeia quality of the word פיצוץ which means explosion (or possibly exploding – I’m not sure of the conjugation, or even the noun versus verb issue).

So until I start a proper ulpan (Hebrew immersion program), I will continue writing down new words, reading over the accumulating list each day for review. I’m also listening to Hebrew lessons on my iPod, though, wow, my accent sucks.

Filed under: hebrew, israel, travels